With the paid laid-off, internships mark market fad

With paying jobs so hard to get in this weak market, a lot of college graduates would gladly settle for a nonpaying internship. But even then, they are competing with laid-off employees with far more experience.

So growing numbers of new graduates — or, more often, their parents — are paying thousands of dollars to services that help them land internships. Call these unpaid internships that you pay for.

“It’s kind of crazy,” said David Gaston, Director of the University of Kansas career center. “The demand for internships in the past 5-10 years has opened up this huge market. At this point, all we can do is teach students to understand that they’re paying and to ask the right questions.”

Not that the parents are complaining. Andrew Topel’s parents paid $8,000 this year to a service that helped their son, a junior at the University of Tampa, get a summer job as an assistant at Ford Models, a top agency in New York.

“It would’ve been awfully difficult” to get a job like that, said Andrew’s father, Avrim Topel, “without having a friend or knowing somebody with a personal contact.” Andrew completed the eight-week internship in July and was invited to return for another summer or to interview for a job after graduation.

Middlemen save time

On the other hand, employers say the middlemen save them time and hassle. “They make the search process a lot easier,” said Sarah Cirkiel, the chief executive of Pitch Control Public Relations, a small New York firm that started four years ago and has taken in 20 summer interns, all from the University of Dreams. “I feel like they hand-select their interns for the specific agencies to make sure it’s the right fit. They just show up at our doorstep, ready to go.”

Educator’s argument

But many educators and students argue that the programmes bridge one gulf — between those who have degrees from prestigious colleges or family connections and those who do not — only to create a new one, between the students who have parents willing and able to buy their children better job prospects and those who do not. “You’re going to increase that divide early, on families that understand that investment process and will pay and the families that don’t,” said Anthony Antonio, a professor of education at Stanford University. “This is just ratcheting it up another notch, which is quite frightening.”

Julia McDonald, the Career Services Director at Florida State University, questioned the need for these programmes. “The economy has had an impact, but there are more than enough internship opportunities out there still,” she said. “That’s like buying a luxury car.”

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